Vaught's Views: Nantz favors Pitino

September 19, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

The college basketball season is still almost two weeks away, and Kentucky and Louisville won't play until late December. However, there's already been a salvo fired in the UK-Louisville rivalry.

This time, though, the controversial remark was not made by a Kentucky or Louisville coach. It wasn't made by a Louisville or Kentucky player. It wasn't even made by a fan.

No, this brouhaha was created by CBS-TV commentator Jim Nantz.

His column on CBS this week reminded everyone that it was Nantz who broke the news way back in December that Bill Parcells was being courted by the Dallas Cowboys and that Kentucky had also had contact with Parcells during its coaching search. It was Nantz and CBS that first reported the same day that Kentucky and Louisville played basketball that Rich Brooks would be UK's new football coach.

However, the end of his column is where he created the basketball uproar by comparing Parcells' arrival at Dallas to Rick Pitino's arrival at Louisville.


"Kentuckians despised Rick for signing up with the archrival," Nantz wrote. "Two years ago, Billy Packer and I called Rick's first game back at Rupp Arena, where he had won a championship for UK in 1996. You knew he didn't have the talent that first year to compete, but your better judgment told you the great coach would make a difference in a hurry. Kentucky pulled away that day and won by 20. I said to Billy as we left the arena that they better enjoy it while it lasts around here, because it won't be long before Rick gets the upper hand.

"By the way, last Dec. 28, in the Kentucky-Louisville rematch, on the day we were advancing the Parcells watch, Louisville 81, Kentucky 63."

The easy translation here is that Nantz rates Pitino a far superior coach to Tubby Smith, who also won a national championship at Kentucky in 1998, and that as long as Pitino is at Louisville, the Cardinals will have the "upper hand" against Kentucky.

He could be right. But I also remember Louisville having the "upper hand" a few times in this series when Denny Crum was still coaching the Cardinals.

There's nothing wrong with Nantz touting Pitino as a terrific coach. Who wouldn't? Well, maybe some Boston Celtics fans would disagree, but Pitino is a great college coach as shown by what he did at Providence and Kentucky and eventually will do at Louisville.

But his praise of Pitino in the Kentucky-Louisville matchup is a slap in the face to Smith, especially since Nantz and Packer likely will be back in Rupp Arena Dec. 27 when CBS again shows the Kentucky-Louisville matchup. Wonder what kind of reception UK fans will give Nantz? Wonder how Smith will react to requests by CBS for pregame access and information?

Smith certainly deals with enough Pitino comparisons in the Bluegrass. No way could he have expected this shot from Nantz in mid-September that makes it seem like Pitino is the only coach in the Bluegrass to have won a national title, won a big game or sustained a successful program.

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